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Interview with: Wallace Miller
Archive Number: OH 124
I: 00:14 First I believe it might be best to begin with some word about your background, the experience that you had that led you to your present position as Juvenile Court judge.
WM: The original background would be the fact that I did attend law school here in the first law class at the University of Houston. Thereafter, rather than practicing law per se, although I did maintain an association with a local law firm, I was basically in business for several years and was out of Harris County for about five years. When I returned on the basis of personal reasons, I went into the full-time practice of law in about 1958, and thereafter went to the legislature, where my main concern was in the field of mental health. This obviously put me in the realm that deals a great deal with juveniles. After I left the legislature after three terms, I went with the Department of Mental Health at the Texas Research Institute, where I became head of the crime and juvenile delinquency section of the Texas Research Institute. Because of my work in that area, I guess as much as any other, the governor appointed me to this court when it came into existence.
I: When did this court come into existence?
WM: In September of 1969. This was the second Juvenile Court. The first Juvenile Court had been formed some five years before that, possibly six.
I: What was the process that led the legislature to create the Juvenile Courts, the very first one and then your court?
WM: Prior to formation of the Juvenile Court, one of the Courts of Domestic Relations—actually, the Court of Domestic Relations judge had served as the Juvenile Court judge. But numerically, the job became overwhelming as far as serving both as a Domestic Relations judge and a Juvenile Court judge. Additionally, the juvenile law evolved more and more as a specialty, as it continues to do. I believe it was probably in 1964—I stand to be corrected on that—it was set aside as a full-time job, and Judge Robert Lowry was the first Juvenile Court judge per se in Harris County. And he had served in that capacity for about six years when the second court was formed due to the tremendous increase in population and therefore the caseload in Harris County. And that’s the same thing that’s led to the formation of Juvenile Court 3 here, which is now held by Judge Chris Cole.
I: 03:52 Do you think that it was from demand on the local level that stimulated the legislature to create the Juvenile Courts? Or was it from the initiative in the legislature itself that led to the creation of the Juvenile Courts?
WM: I believe it was on the local level. I was serving in the legislature at the time, and that is my recollection.
I: How did people go about making the legislature aware of this need?
WM: Basically, I imagine it was the Juvenile Court judge himself at that time, Judge Mills, I think probably was as much responsible as anyone in saying that it had become a full-time job.
I: You pointed to the fact that juvenile law has increasingly become a specialty. What are the factors that have caused juvenile law to become a specialty?
WM: The main factor, I would suppose, would be the landmark case, In re Gault, which was decided, as I recall, in 1967 by the Supreme Court of the United States. It pointed out that the informality allowed by juvenile law had gotten so informal that in many areas, particularly rural areas, the informality had gone to the extreme of the Juvenile Court actions becoming in effect kangaroo court actions, lacking almost entirely in legal process. And with that nationwide mandate, if you will, the courts became far more formal than they ever had in the past and necessarily had far more formal hearings. And since then, far more of the attorneys have participated. One of the things it did, for example, was make it mandatory that every child be represented by an attorney. Probably before that, not one attorney in a thousand had ever participated in a Juvenile Court hearing. I would say the vast majority today still haven’t, but particularly with your young lawyers coming out of law school, they get their first experience in the Juvenile Courts. And many of the lawyers who are now specializing specialize in Domestic Relations matters, which certainly include the Juvenile Courts.
I: Judge Lowry’s court, I believe, started before the 1967 decision, In re Gault.
WM: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: 07:02 So the pressures, at least in Harris County, were there before this decision. What were those pressures?
WM: Let me clarify one thing, which most attorneys find a shock. The Juvenile Courts don’t hear just juvenile matters. The Juvenile Courts are full Courts of Domestic Relations with the additional mandate to hear juvenile matters so that the entire spectrum of family law is heard in the Juvenile Courts. That’s divorce, annulment, adoptions, the matters now that are termed suits affecting the parent-child relationship. All those things are heard in the Juvenile Court, not just matters of delinquency. So you have a total caseload that is in effect as broad or broader than any Court of Domestic Relations in the state.
I: Are there Courts of Domestic Relations in Houston, for example?
WM: There are five, and probably we need three more.
I: How is it that the Juvenile Court has overlapping jurisdiction with the Domestic Relations Courts?
WM: Well, they’re not overlapping; they’re concurrent.
I: Okay. Okay, fine. Explain it to me, please.
WM: The law as it presently stands states that any court which has the original action of any kind affecting a child, any action affecting that child’s status until he reaches his majority must be heard by the court that originally heard it unless that court wishes to transfer that jurisdiction. So therefore, conceivably from birth until a child is 18, any action affecting that child can be and should be heard most often by the court having original jurisdiction. So as you can see, considering the number of divorces, adoptions, annulments, that can cover fully a third of the children in Harris County.
I: What are the procedures when the child is introduced into the Juvenile Court system?
WM: It’s according to how he’s introduced, whether he’s introduced as a subject of a divorce or whether he’s introduced as a child who is dependent neglected, as the law used to call it, or whether or not he’s a child that’s introduced as having engaged in delinquent conduct.
I: 09:55 Let’s take it from the delinquent conduct viewpoint.
WM: All right.
I: What are the processes by which a child is brought before your court?
WM: Of course there’s got to be an original referring agency. The law enforcement agencies, as far as delinquencies are concerned, are number one in those referrals. The second source is the parents themselves, the second most numerically. The third most numerically is the school system. And then there are several other agencies that bring these matters to the attention of the courts. Once this referral is made, then the Juvenile Probation Department makes an evaluation of the case according to the guidelines that are set by law. And if it is what we term a court actionable case, then the child is formally brought before the Juvenile Court. Generally speaking, minor things, first offenses, don’t reach the Juvenile Court. So the difference is that where some 36,000 referrals are made annually in Harris County, less than 6,000 of those actually reach the courts. And those 6,000 are children who have reached repeated referrals or more serious referrals.
I: What are the standards to decide whether to bring the child before your court?
WM: The basic standard that I think I’ve touched on is whether or not it is a first offense and whether or not it is a serious offense. Those are the two main things.
I: Main things. And this determination is made by the—
WM: Juvenile Probation Department’s screening division.
I: Once a child is before the Juvenile Court, what are the differences between the procedures for handling that child and the procedures for handling an adult?
WM: Theoretically on whether or not the child actually committed the act, there should be no difference in procedure between a child and an adult. That is, you should have the same standard of proof to determine whether or not a child committed the act. That part of the trial is called the adjudicatory phase, and the child is entitled to all the safeguards in Texas that an adult is, including the fact that the law requires a jury trial now unless the child waives it. Now that’s theoretical. When you go beyond that point, then you reach where the law most clearly distinguishes between an adult and a child. When you leave the adjudicatory phase and go into what is called the dispositional phase or the placement phase, then you have retained a high degree of the informality which was present in the original concept of juvenile law, the idea being that there should not be punishment per se for a child who has committed a delinquent act, the idea being that you’re supposed to reform or, if you will, rehabilitate the child so that when he does reach the age of criminal accountability, he will have changed his pattern of behavior so that he won’t be afoul of the law. Now it’s awfully hard to get the child to realize that if you’re taking him away from his parents or you’re putting him in a state school that this is not for punishment but for rehabilitation. I personally despise the use of the word rehabilitation as is the common usage because that connotes that the child has been habilitated in the first place, which many children are without any concept, if you will, of mine or not mine—things that basic.
I: 14:32 What are the type of reactions that you get from parents when you do have a child brought before your court, both in terms of the procedures themselves and then in the decision making phase?
WM: Generally speaking, I don’t know whether you call it reaction or not, but we have two broad categories, if you will: the underprotective parents and the overprotective parents. And which is the more damaging to a child, I can’t say. I ask that question of myself every day. In some of these things, a psychologist or a psychiatrist would have to answer rather than a judge, but it becomes apparent that many children are damaged by overprotective parents.
I: What is the most common, the underprotective or the overprotective?
WM: I think they’re about equal. These are things that are devices of the parent for his or her own well-being rather than for the child.
I: What goes into a decision when a child is found guilty?
WM: A child is not found guilty.
I: Okay, fine.
WM: We have a lot of distinctions without differences in the Juvenile Court, it seems to me. But technically, a child is not found guilty. He is found to have engaged in delinquent conduct. Of course when I’m explaining it to a child and a child is making an admission that he did engage in delinquent conduct, I tell him specifically that this is the same thing as a plea of guilty. But supposedly there’s no guilt or innocence in a Juvenile Court, and there’s no punishment in a Juvenile Court. But many people, and particularly the child, would find this hard to understand or believe.
I: 16:52 When you do come to a decision about a child having engaged in delinquent conduct, what are the factors that go into that decision?
WM: The main thing you consider— The basic thing you consider—I won’t say the main thing—is you get a social study prepared by the Juvenile Probation Department which, as far as they can determine in the limited time they have, covers this child’s life factors: his home living conditions, his school problems, everything having to do with that child that they can find out in a limited time. Then you consider that in conjunction with what facilities are available to the court to attack the problems that are pointed out. And the court should and does, as far as I know, consider everything that’s available in this regard. Many times a lot of things will become apparent in the courtroom that weren’t apparent either to the interviewer at the Juvenile Probation Department or were never mentioned to the probation officer. So I say this report is a basic instrument, but it’s certainly not the total instrument, and we certainly listen to anybody else—school teachers, social workers, psychologists, ministers—who have any knowledge or interest in the problem before we make that determination.
I: What are the options that you have when you do make a determination?
WM: The first option is rather closed in. And that is the law itself says that you should place a child, if at all possible, in his home or a homelike condition and try to make these changes. The other end of the spectrum is if all other things in effect have been exhausted, you place him in a state school for children. Anything in between those two things that you can think of that might change his behavior is a viable option.
I: Like what?
WM: For example, one of the better options we have here in Harris County that other people don’t have available to them is an institution called the Gulf Coast Trade School that is a joint operation between the Houston Independent School District, the city of Houston, the Juvenile Probation Department, at New Waverly, Texas, where boys are taught building trades as opposed to academic training. That’s been one of more successful programs.
I: 19:56 Why is it that Harris County has such a project and other areas do not?
WM: Just because Harris County is an urban area having the problems and has more of those problems and also probably has more money available to it than other areas. For example, Harris County and Dallas County have what we now call in Harris County the Harris County Youth Village, which is an intermediate type school. We’re the only two counties in Texas that have this type of facility. We have it because the people have seen fit to demand it in years past. And we’re probably the only two counties that can afford them. This is an option that we have available to us that no other counties have where we send the younger children, and we put the emphasis on remedial education there when they are not what we call hard-core delinquents. We try to catch them early. Now how much good this has done that we can statistically prove, I don’t know.
I: You have options ranging from—
WM: Putting them right back in a home.
I: —putting them right back in the home to sending them to—
WM: Texas Youth Council.
I: —Texas Youth Council.
WM: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: What are the factors that go into this decision to place them—
WM: The factors are the educational problems that the child has had, if any, is added to the number of referrals and the kinds of referrals he’s had, what is available at the time, what are the attitudes of his parents, other people that are important in his life. You just have to take in—I think the phrase now is the totality of the circumstances.
I: Do you as a judge have any reservations about where to send the children that come before you because of the quality of the various centers that you have available?
WM: 22:18 Certainly you have reservations. One of the things and one of the great turmoils here right now is the change in the Texas Youth Council. Maybe my reservations might be the opposite of some of the general public’s. I think some of our institutions have become so lax now and so unstructured that the need for a structured environment isn’t met by any of our institutions. Another thing is we have some children—thank God a minimal number, but still existent—for whom there is absolutely no institution, public or private, that can help them. And I’ll point out two examples. One is the mentally retarded offender. There is no institution, public or private, within the ability of this court to place them. And another is the pregnant teenager who is also an offender. There is no public or private institution that I know of that you can hold a girl who is seven months pregnant. In effect, she can get by with murder.
I: What do you do when you have a situation?
WM: Go in my closet and cry. (laughs) There is no place for them. They end up, if their parents will take them, back in their parents’ homes until we can find some other placement.
I: What about after the girl has had the child?
WM: After she has had the child she is amenable to all sorts of processes, including losing her child. I’ll say a tiny number of girls have ever been in this position, considering the total number of referrals, but they do exist. I’ve had mothers calling me just absolutely maddened by the actions of their daughters who are home and seven and a half months pregnant, but I just have to tell them there is no place for them.
I: Your concern is that you don’t really have the structure and institutions that you need. Could you elaborate upon this?
WM: So much of this is now, and I guess will be for a long, long time, experimental. And it seems to go in pendulum swings. They say that excess always leads to opposite excess, and we’ve gone from the tales of brutality that have been spread on the front pages at Gatesville and Mountain View to now in the Texas Youth Council many kids are sent home on furlough in three months after the time they’re sent there. It’s hard for me to believe that someone who has spent 16 or 17 years inculcating a certain mode of behavior is going to change that mode of behavior in any 3 months’ period of time. For example, I had a call up there from them the other day that asked me if I had any reservations about sending a murderer home who had been there for less than six months.
I: 25:57 What was your reply?
WM: I told them certainly I had reservations, but it was no longer in my jurisdiction, so—
I: Did they send him home?
WM: I don’t know. They certainly were considering it.
I: Why has this change come about?
WM: Excesses on the opposite point of view when they found that some children—and I believe a minimal number—were being physically abused or were being denied rehabilitation in Texas Youth Council.
I: So you believe that the concerns about brutality have been overstressed in the past.
WM: Well, see, good news— This pertains to everything, but good news is not what you see in the newspaper. That which is odd or newsworthy is what you see. And it’s not newsworthy that the standards have been so relaxed at Texas Youth Council that we reached the point where kids are home sometimes within one day. One thing about it is the Youth Council has contractual abilities that these courts don’t have. They have money to spend for private placements that these courts don’t have. So the thing of sending a kid to the Youth Council when you’re trying to tell him that you’re doing it for his own good, he’s not going to believe you nor are his parents. It is absolutely true as far as the courts are concerned. I had a kid here the other day that the people who had originally referred him for his misconduct while he was at a placement were the people who got him back from the Youth Council within two or three days of the time I sent him. And they then will be operating on a contractual basis with the Youth Council, I think to everybody’s benefit. But you get the reputation of being hard-nosed if you want to send a kid to the Youth Council, I think basically because people are thinking of the old days of Mountain View and the list of abuses there when in point of fact I think there are less than 50 children at Mountain View today. Mountain View as such doesn’t exist anymore. The fences are down, the dogs are gone, and nearly all the children are gone. But you do have a miniscule number, if you will, of very violent people under the age of 17 that have to be somewhere for the protection of the public, and I think that’s about all we’ve got left at Mountain View.
I: 29:08 What do you believe should be done? Since you see problems with the Texas Youth Council, what sort of reforms do you think should be instituted?
WM: I think the basic problems have been answered. I think what we need is a little more tightening up. I think they’ve swung too far to permissiveness. Many children—and I certainly don’t want to use all, but many children—are the victims of too much permissiveness as it is. And to be placed from one permissive setting to another permissive setting is going to be of no value to them whatsoever.
I: In terms of the numbers of individuals that you have to come to a decision about, how many do you send to the Texas Youth Council? What part of the—
WM: Some— Well, I can just tell you for all the courts in Harris County. For example, I will hear 400 to 500 delinquency cases a month, and the probability is that I will average sending 2 or 3 children to the Youth Council out of 500 or 600 cases. Basically speaking, I think we send something less than 2% of the cases we hear on delinquency to the Youth Council. Numerically, it’ll run less than 200 a year from Harris County out of, if you will, 36,000 referrals. We are lucky in that we have a lot more community facilities available to us than they do in other counties. We have the medical centers here. We have four good colleges and universities where certain things—remedial education things, for example—are available that aren’t available in other counties. We have, as I touched upon, the Harris County Youth Village that is not available to other counties. We just have a lot of things that are not available because of the urban-rural relationship that other courts don’t have. We don’t have anywhere near the facilities that we need, but relatively speaking, we are so much better off than other counties that we can’t complain.
I: I believe there’s something called Hope Center.
WM: That is a brainchild of Judge Chris Cole’s, and I think that should be reserved for him to explain to you since he’s much more familiar than I.
I: Okay. When you have to place a child outside the home, are these services in effect then taking over the role of the family?
WM: 32:19 For the time being. All the agencies that are—I’m going to use the word, for lack of a better term—helping agencies should be working with the parents at the same time so that the child won’t go back into identically the same milieu or atmosphere that he left from. Unfortunately, I have to use the term should because if there is any failure— I would rephrase that. The biggest failure we have in any of these programs is just that: placing the child back when he’s been through a treatment program, putting him back in the same atmosphere that he came from originally. If that atmosphere has not changed, the high probability of recidivism is there.
I: Just what is the recidivism rate?
WM: The one thing that I am certain of in my years of acquaintance with the juvenile problem is that there are no valid juvenile statistics, and to quote any I would just be completely out of line. And the reason for that is that there is no possible way to follow up because of the way people move around nowadays from state to state, much less in the city. And anybody who gives you juvenile statistics I think is whistling Dixie because I don’t believe there is such a thing as a valid juvenile statistic. Unfortunately, if you want to look at the overall of it, you’d have to look at the crime rate, and I would say that we’re not just doing too well—total crime rate.
I: Why is it that the statistics are not reliable?
WM: Let’s take, for example, the question of in the total crime rate the percentage that are juvenile crimes. There’s no way to know whether a burglary was committed by an adult or a juvenile unless you catch him and find out how old he was. Well, since a high percentage of your crimes are not solved by anyone, there’s no way to know whether this was a juvenile matter or an adult matter. And that’s just for openers. So if you can tell me some way other than a guesstimate based upon the ones you catch to give a valid statistic, I’ll put in with you.
I: Do you want this on or not?
WM: I want it off. (recorder turned off and then back on)
I: 35:27 What about the question of parental responsibility for the children that you have to deal with in your court?
WM: In a way, that reflects back to what we were talking about earlier, that we have some parents who are overprotective, some who neglect their children. There is a third and rather large category of parents whom I feel to be victims of circumstance. At least as far as I’m concerned, I have gone over the record as far as I can, and I see where they’ve done everything under the circumstances that they can do and yet their kid has gone bad. This may be because of the neighborhood they live in, it may be because of a particular group he ran into at school or just any number of factors. Sometimes it’s the death of a parent. They tend to hold themselves personally responsible for what happened to their child when truly they are not.
I: When you are working with a child in your court, how do your actions also impact upon the parents? How does the parent fit in, because obviously, the philosophy of the Juvenile Court is one trying to deal as much as possible with the total situation. So the parent is being brought into this to some degree. Their lives are being affected as well as the child.
WM: The court, of course, itself rarely enters into anything directly with the parent. This service, for the lack of a better term, is provided by the Juvenile Probation Department through the caseworker who handles the case after it’s been through court. And the caseworker will try to work individually with the parents. If the parent-child relationship is something beyond the capabilities of the caseworker or if it requires a specialist—some specialized counseling, some specialized training—the caseworker tries to use some local agency, private or public, to point that out to the parents and ask them to use it. Sometimes it is made a matter of the rules of probation that the child attend certain types of counseling. One of the anomalies of this court is that we have no real jurisdiction over the parent. But if the parents are sincere in wanting to help the situation of the child, when we order family counseling, we are in effect ordering the parent to do something.
I: Can you enforce this order on the parents?
WM: Only against the child. That’s the unfortunate part. We have some negative enforcement. For example, we can enjoin people from having contact with the child.
I: 38:55 Are parents expected to appear before the court?
WM: By law they must. They are the parties. The child is actually the subject of the suit more than he is a party to the suit. The actual party in interest is the parent, and the parent is subpoenaed and must be given the opportunity at least to be present. If he is not present, the court must appoint a guardian for the child.
I: Is this one area in which the court does have authority over the parent then?
WM: The authority is to bring them to court.
I: To bring them to court.
WM: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Some parents ignore this, and you have authority to hold them in contempt when they do ignore it.
I: What sort of reforms in the law would you like to see to rectify this problem, this anomaly?
WM: One of those will be present in the—I’ve got it laying here on my desk just this morning—proposed constitutional amendments coming up in November, I guess, where all the district level courts will be District Courts. We will then be District Family Courts as opposed to Juvenile Courts, and a District Court would have the authority over the parent that is lacking in the Juvenile Court as a special court.
I: Is this one of the differences between the Juvenile Court as it now exists and the Courts of Domestic Relations?
WM: No. The Courts of Domestic Relations are exactly in the same position we are. We are Courts of Domestic Relations.
I: Oh. The same thing, just a different title. Is that basically the situation?
WM: In special courts now, which Courts of Domestic Relations are and which Juvenile Courts are, we are given concurrent jurisdiction and equal jurisdiction that is spelled out by statute with the District Courts. But there are inherent powers of District Courts which are not present in special courts, and the constitutional amendment will alleviate that.
I: 41:14 What role have you as a judge played in helping to shape this new constitutional amendment?
WM: The special court judges of the actually seven counties that are affected in Texas have— For several sessions the legislature tried to get these courts made into Family District Courts. Up until now we’ve failed. We’ve come within one or two votes in the last—not number of votes but within one or two readings in the last two or three sessions of the legislature getting this passed. Apparently it’s not going to pass in this session either, but they have passed the new constitution, which will take care of the problem.
I: How have you gone about making the legislature aware of your needs? How do you communicate with the legislature?
WM: What we call the DR, the domestic relations section of the judicial section of the state bar, has taken this to the legislature, at least the last three or four sessions of the legislature that I know of. We haven’t had opposition per se; we just haven’t had enough clout to overcome legislative inertia. And we’ve been to the lip of the cup three times.
I: (chuckles) It must be very frustrating.
WM: It is indeed.
I: To influence the legislature you work through the bar then.
WM: Yes, in this instance, and of course individually. We talk with our individual legislators.
I: What is the appeal process for those juveniles who come before the court?
WM: They can appeal to the Court of Civil Appeals. In Harris County there are two Courts of Civil Appeals, and they are just across the street. So if they are aggrieved, all they’ve got to do is walk right across the street and make their appellate bond, and they will be heard quite a bit faster than they will any place else in Texas, I would imagine.
I: Why is it so much faster, just because—
WM: Because we’ve got two courts, and it’s just through the tunnel and across the street. So there is always appellate review available.
I: 43:31 What are the bases for an appeal? Is there any difference than for other courts?
WM: It’s the same as any other civil court.
I: I believe that you were instrumental in starting a project called Concerned Teens.
I: What is this project?
WM: This is an organization that I dreamed up when I first came over here with several other attorneys and businessmen and so forth. We had planning sessions for several weeks before we actually started it. And basically, the idea was that teenagers communicate with teenagers better than adults communicate with teenagers, and if this is so, then if some teenagers had facts rather than scuttlebutt or grapevine, that we might alleviate the juvenile delinquency problem to some degree that way. We started this group. They gave themselves their name, and they are self-governed. They have their own constitution, their own bylaws, and their own officers. It is a nonprofit corporation with a rather loose-knit group of board of directors. I’m not on it anymore, by the way, because of a county attorney’s ruling that anybody who contracts with the county can’t have somebody who is paid by the county on the board. We have some minimal contractual contact with the county through a halfway house that the teenagers own and operate, so to speak, and that’s the Ingrando House, which is out on South Park, a halfway house. That is a major project of the organization which came about some three or four years after we were established. We have some other major projects. One of the best known is the Teen Hotline, which I guess was our first major project. We also have a job placement service, and we’ve had a lot of other special one-shot projects, and we also now in conjunction with the Houston Bar Association have an educational program that we’re trying to work with the Houston Independent School District. Judge Frank Evans, Associate Justice Frank Evans of the Court of Appeals, has for the last several years been the driving force of Concerned Teens, and if anyone should be interviewed on teen problems, he probably knows more than anybody in Harris County. He is the backbone of Concerned Teens. We have several young lawyers and some housewives and some businessmen on the board as far as the board makeup is concerned. We have I think only one of the original board of directors members still on the board.
I: 46:59 When you were working to begin Concerned Teens, part of your expectation from what you say was that it might in some way affect the youths that come before the Juvenile Court. How has this proved out?
WM: We’re back to statistics now. (interviewer chuckles) As far as I know—and I’ll knock on wood—we’ve had, say, several thousand—that might be stretching it—several hundred, if not several thousand, kids come through the program in the last five years. I only know of one who has ever been accused of a delinquent act, and she was exonerated of that. So as far as the kids in the program themselves are concerned, I’d say that it’s total effectiveness. On the other hand, how much they’ve disseminated to other children, there’s no way to measure.
I: Who are the children who get involved in Concerned Teens?
WM: The first of every year I write a letter to all the assistant principals of junior high schools and high schools in Harris County and ask them to send representatives. And I say, “Send leaders.” I don’t mean academic leaders. I don’t want leaders without a following; I want leaders—a football hero, a cheerleader, somebody that other kids look up to and listen to—to see if they will join this program. So about the first week of September of every year we get a new crop. And we’re particularly proud of some of our, if you will, graduates who have done very well in many lines of endeavor in the last five years. Most of them now are in college somewhere, a lot of them have been in the service, and some of them are back here in business now and come to Concerned Teens meetings yet. But as far as their impact on the community, all we can go by, say, is the statistics of the thousands of calls we get at Teen Hotline. We also have a thing I haven’t mentioned. We have a TeenLine column in the Houston Post, and we have had several hundreds, if not thousands, of letters to the TeenLine column in the Houston Post. These questions are answered by other teens in counsel. I don’t guess there’s any way to measure the impact.
I: If I could switch the conversation back to where we began and that is the beginning of your concern in these matters, you indicated that when you went into the legislature—and the record of your committee memberships indicate—that you had a concern about mental health type problems, judicial type problems. What was the source of these concerns?
WM: 50:19 Just suffice it to say I had personal reasons to be very interested in the way mental health problems were handled in the state at that time.
I: Well, what did you do in the legislature to carry out your concerns?
WM: The first thing I did was get assigned to the old State Hospitals and Special Schools Committee. While on that committee I introduced I think some 23, if you will, minor amendments to the Mental Health Code in Texas, and thereafter, the following term, I was named by the Speaker as chairman of that committee, and the first thing I did then was change the name of it by resolution to the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Committee. And as a result of working with several interested citizens and psychiatrists, psychologists, and other professionals, I introduced and passed House Bill 3 of the 58th Legislature, as I recall, the Texas Mental Health Act, which is the act that we are operating under now. And basically, it called for decentralization of services from state level to community level and established the community mental health centers in Texas. I take that back. I’m sorry. That was my third term. It was my last term. It was the 59th Legislature when we finally got that through. So I had two terms as chairman of the Mental Health Committee.
I: How is it that you began to see a need for community mental health centers?
WM: Through personal experiences I found that many, many services which were— There were some answers, but there weren’t answers locally. If you needed to get anything done, you had to get it done in Austin, and services just weren’t available to the general public. And the state hospitals at the time were in effect warehouses. This was not true just in Texas. This was a national thing. We just had to change the thinking of warehousing people to treating people. You can treat on a local level, but once you ship the problem out of the community, then it tends to be forgotten in the community, and that person then becomes a nonproductive nonperson.
I: How did your experience in dealing with mental health questions in the legislature and then in this period before you became Juvenile Court judge, how did this lead into—
WM: On that committee and anywhere else that you’ve worked in the area of mental health, the first thing you learn is that these problems arise as problems of childhood that develop into problems of adults. The same thing is true of juvenile crime. These patterns are established in childhood, and the longer you work in this area, the more deeply convinced you are—at least I am—that this is a fact. And so you start putting more emphasis in the area of prevention. And necessarily then in the area of prevention, you must start working with the child, and the younger the better. There’s an absolute correlation between mental health and children’s mental health.
I: 54:54 At what point did you become interested in having a judgeship such as this?
WM: I guess as soon as I started working with the problem. I would say it would be in the early ‘50s somewhere or in the ‘50s—some 20 years ago. Not necessarily a judgeship but working with the problem.
I: Working with the problem.
WM: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: How has the experience of actually working with the problem changed the way that you see the problem?
WM: Only to the extent that I’m convinced that the general public looks at the problem—any problem that has the word juvenile involved in it—as Mickey Mouse. And unless and until we can educate the public that this is not a fact and particularly, say, in the area of juvenile crime, when you say juvenile, it doesn’t mean that that crime is a minor crime, particularly if you’re a victim. Say that you have been held up at gunpoint. I think it’s rather immaterial to you whether the person handling that gun was 16 or 22. But I think maybe it’s just human nature that when the term juvenile is used, it tends to be equated with minimal or Mickey Mouse. And until we get over that way of thinking, I don’t see how we’re going to whip any of the problems. So my major thrust is to change that thinking on the part of the general public, if possible.
I: What new approaches do you believe need to be applied? Or is that a valid question?
WM: Certainly it’s a valid question. I think that approaches must be basically in the educational field rather than any other field that I know of. I mean, we can reach more of the problems in the educational field. For example, teachers can early on in kindergarten and first grade pick up certain telltale signs a child is not going to fit the norms. Another thing is the structure of education itself, it seems to me, is going to have to be drastically changed. Rather than assuming that every child should follow an academic pattern, we’re going to have to recognize that the vocational trades are at least equal in importance to the academic type of training. I think it’s foolish to run a nationwide system on the assumption that everybody can and should go to college to follow up with more academic training. This frustration I think is as damaging to as many children as any other one thing that I know of. We’re going to have to give some valid choices to a child at a much earlier age than we’re giving it now as far as kids’ educational opportunities are concerned. There are any number of places where the problems can be attacked earlier and differently than they are now.
I: 58:57 Could you give some examples, please?
WM: I think I just gave two.
WM: Another thing is in the area of learning disabilities. We’re just barely scratching the edge of some learning disabilities that in the past have been treated, for example, as retardation when they are in fact not retardation. And you find a substantial number of children who have lost interest in school and get in trouble as a result of not being able to learn specific things. And these things are treatable. Unfortunately, in all these areas nowadays I think any therapist will agree with the statement that we’re far more advanced in diagnosis than we are in therapy. So we can diagnose a lot of problems for which there are no treatments at this time.
I: Judge, you are a very busy man, I know. And so I think in closing, may I just ask one last question?
I: In what directions do you see the juvenile system moving?
WM: That’s going to be up to public outcry. If the public sees the system as I do, as generally failing to accomplish its stated ends, if the public sees that and tries to rectify the areas of failure rather than do away with the system, which I think will be the first outcry, then I think there’s some hope. But we’re going to have to make some major changes where we have demonstrably failed. I don’t believe that treating children as small adults will be the answer, although I am afraid that’s going to be the first thrust. When the public gets tired of getting ripped off and killed by teenagers, there’s going to be a public outcry.
I: 1:01:22 What do you believe will happen after this thrust? Do you have any idea where it might lead after that?
WM: I’m afraid it’s going to lead to the abolition of some of the laws protecting juveniles. I’m afraid of that. I hope that’s not true. I hope they will see that we need more specialized help for children. We need to increase our capacity in therapy to reach our degree of expertise in diagnosis.
I: On behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives Center, I wish to thank you so very much for your time and for your observations.
WM: I thank you for the opportunity.
[end of OH 124] 1:02:10